<history of philosophy, biography> after receiving a sound education in mathematics, classics, and law at La Fleche and Poitiers, Rene Descartes (1596-1650) embarked on a brief career in military service with Prince Maurice in Holland and Bavaria. Unsatisfied with scholastic philosophy and troubled by skepticism of the sort expounded by Montaigne, Descartes soon conceived a comprehensive plan for applying mathematical methods in order to achieve perfect certainty in human knowledge. During a twenty-year period of secluded life in Holland, he produced the body of work that secured his philosophical reputation. Descartes moved to Sweden in 1649, but did not survive his first winter there. Although he wrote extensively, Descartes chose not to publish his earliest efforts at expressing the universal method and deriving its consequences. The Regulae ad directionem ingenii (Rules for the Direction of the Mind) (1628) contain his first full statement of the principles underlying the method and his confidence in the success of their application. In Le Monde (The World) (1634), Descartes clearly espoused a Copernican astronomy, but he withheld the book from the public upon learning of Galileo's condemnation. Descartes finally presented (in French) his rationalist vision of the progress of human knowledge in the Discours de la mÈthode pour bien conduire sa Raison et chercher la Verite dans les Sciences (Discourse on Method) (1637). In this expository essay, Descartes assessed the deficient outcomes of a traditional education, proposed a set of rules with which to make a new start, and described the original experience upon which his hope for unifying human knowledge was based. The final sections of the Discourse and the essays (on dipotric, meteors, and geometry) appended to it illustrate the consequences of employing this method. A few years later, Descartes offered (in Latin) a more formal exposition of his central tenets in Meditationes de Prima Philosophia (Meditations on First Philosophy) (1641). After an expanded statement of the method of doubt, he argued that even the most dire skepticism is overcome by the certainty of one's own existence as a thinking thing. From this beginning, he believed it possible to use our clear and distinct ideas to demonstrate the existence of god, to establish the reliability of our reason generally despite the possibility of error, to deduce the essence of body, and to prove that material things do exist. On these grounds, Descartes defended a strict dualism, according to which the mind and body are wholly distinct, even though it seems evident that they interact. The Meditations were published together with an extensive set of objections (by Hobbes, Gassendi, Arnauld, and others) and Descartes's replies. Descartes later attempted a more systematic exposition of his views in the Principia Philosophiae (Principles of Philosophy) (1644) and an explanation of human emotion in Les Passions de L'Ame (The Passions of the Soul). Recommended Reading: Primary sources: Oeuvres de Descartes, ed. by C. Adam and P. Tannery (Cerf, 1896-1913); The Philosophical Works of Descartes, tr. by E. S. Haldane and G. T. R. Ross. (Cambridge, 1968); The Philosophical Writings of Descartes: The Correspondence, ed. by John Cottingham, et. al. (Cambridge, 1991); Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, tr. by Donald A. Cress (Hackett, 1999); The Philosophical Writings of Descartes, tr. by John Cottingham Robert Stoothoff, and Dugald Murdoch (Cambridge, 1985); RenÈ Descartes, Philosophical Essays and Correspondence, ed. by Roger Ariew (Hackett, 2000); RenÈ Descartes, The World and Other Writings, ed. by Stephen Gaukroger (Cambridge, 1998); Rene Descartes, Discourse De La Methode / Discourse on the Method (Bilingual Edition), ed. by George Heffernan (Notre Dame, 1994); Rene Descartes, Meditationes De Prima Philosophia / Meditations on First Philosophy (Bilingual Edition), ed. by George Heffernan (Notre Dame, 1990). Secondary sources: The Cambridge Companion to Descartes, ed. by John Cottingham (Cambridge, 1992); Marjorie Grene, Descartes (Hackett, 1998); Anthony Kenny, Descartes: A Study of His Philosophy (St. Augustine, 1993); Margaret Dauler Wilson, Ideas and Mechanism (Princeton, 1999); Feminist Interpretations of Rene Descartes, ed. by Susan Bordo (Penn. State, 1999); John Cottingham, Descartes (Routledge, 1999); George Dicker, Descartes: An Analytical and Historical Introduction (Oxford, 1993); Daniel Garber, Descartes Embodied: Reading Cartesian Philosophy Through Cartesian Science (Cambridge, 2001); Martial Gueroult, Descartes' Philosophy Interpreted according to the Order of Reasons, tr. by Roger Ariew (in two volumes) (Minnesota, 1984); E. M. Curley, Descartes Against the Skeptics (Iuniverse, 1999); Daniel Garber, Descartes' Metaphysical Physics (Chicago, 1992). Additional on-line information about Descartes includes: Detailed lessons on Descartes from Alistair Lyall and Seonaid Woodburn. John Cottingham's article in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Also see: animal spirits, Cartesianism, certainty, cogito ergo sum, doubt, dualism, foundationalism, French philosophy, human nature, ideas, arguments from illusion, innate ideas, the malin genie, philosophy of mathematics, mechanism, mentality, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, the mind-body problem, modernism, the pineal gland, primary and secondary qualities, rationalism, the representative theory of perception, res cogitans, skepticism, and thinking. Kurt Smith 's article on Descartes's life and works in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Lex Newman's article on Descartes's epistemology in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. A thorough article in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The article in the Columbia Encyclopedia at Bartleby.com. A section on Descartes from Alfred Weber's history of philosophy. The thorough collection of resources at EpistemeLinks.com. Adriane Baillet's La Vie de M. Descartes. Stephen H. Daniel's discussion of Cartesian epistemology. Snippets from Descartes (French, Latin, and English) in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. Clodius Piat's discussion in The Catholic Encyclopedia. A paper on Cartesian dualism by Zuraya Monroy-Nasr. Robert Tremblay's discussion at Encephi (in French). A discussion of eternal truths from Floy E. Andrews. A paper by Juan Carlos Moreno Romo on the Cartesian Circle. Eric Weisstein's discussion at Treasure Trove of Scientific Biography. Discussions of mathematical contributions at Mathematical MacTutor. An entry in The Oxford Dictionary of Scientists. The Bloomsbury Guide to Human Thought on The Cartesian Co-ordinate System. David Wilkins, Bj–rn Christensson's brief guide to Descartes. A brief entry in The Macmillan Encyclopedia 2001.
[A Dictionary of Philosophical Terms and Names]
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